Flags at half staff and fire trucks –polished and bright– lined up near the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown set the scene for Brent Lovrien’s farewell. He is the first firefighter Los Angeles has lost on the job in almost four years. Friends, relatives, and city officials joined hundreds of firefighters from across the country to pay their last respects.
It’s a rare occasion when you can hear a pin drop along Temple Street near L.A.’s City Hall. The mood was solemn as onlookers stood shoulder-to-shoulder. An honorary color guard marched away from the back of engine number 95. Eight firefighters in their dress black uniforms marched up a shallow ramp to the shiny red casket perched high on their truck. It carried the remains of their brother, Brent Lovrien.
Lovrien served on the L.A. City Fire Department for 10 years. While he responded to an emergency call, a freak explosion killed him a week ago Wednesday.
At least 1,000 people in uniforms gathered at City Hall’s south lawn for his funeral procession. Along the five-block route to Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, two sets of fire engines were positioned in special formation. Their ladders extended towards the heavens. Where they intersected, suspended American flags fluttered in the wind. Fire departments borrowed the tradition from the military.
“Basically, what you see is the crossed aerials,” says Fire Captain Armando Hogan. “That is part of the transitional phase of an individual going to that fire station in the sky.”
Bagpipe music is another part of the tradition.
“It gives honor,” says Olive Brown. She heard the music from inside her office at the Hall of Records and came downstairs to stand at attention. “There’s a certain amount of ritual. And I think rituals are important in our society. Sometimes we kind of lose sight of that.”
Bystander Billy Barrera didn’t. He drove an hour from Downey and paid $10 to park. With his high-eight video recorder in hand, he held down a spot in front of the cathedral.
“You know, it’s such a big event,” says Billy Barrera, “that if people were not here to see it, I could always post it on YouTube, or show it to friends of mine.
Friends of firefighter Lovrien said they’ll miss his kind nature and good heart. Battalion Chief Ronnie Villanueva guessed at what Lovrien might have said about the spectacle.
“Wow, a lot of people showed up,” Villanueva laughs. “That, and probably he’s taking count of who showed up.”
That would keep him busy for a while. About 200 fire trucks, ambulances, mounted units, and motorcycle officers attended. The event shut down seven blocks around L.A.’s City Hall during morning rush hour.